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Old computers never die...
by Mark on 3/14/2004 (9)

Old computers never die, they just fade away.
On the road again, Smooth Operator's tech staff sent me to find classic "old" PC's still in use across the country.

Gathering my gear and my ancient Zenith Super Sport 286 laptop, I stopped by my editor Kris Steele's office to pick up my plane tickets. This assignment was an exciting one: To find classic old computers still in use across America.

I tossed my lugubrious 16 pound laptop on Kris's desk with a satisfying thud

"Kris, speaking of ancient technology, howsabout springing for a new laptop? I skip going to the gym when I carry this pig around. I mean, with the workout I get lugging this boat anchor from town to town, who needs weights?"

Steele looked up from his brand new Sony Vaio 1.3 lb ultra-thin P4 feather lite notebook

"As soon as I finish payin' off this Mazzaratti, thats when! I pay you for the words you're typing, not the equipment you're typing them on! Between you and Suzanne whining for 6 more D cells for her desk calculator, I'm lucky to have enough dough left to pay the AOL bill every month! Now grab some extra 5 1/4" floppies and get moving!"

My first interview was in New England. Rumor had it the control room of the desolate Boon Island lighthouse was still controlled by that progenitor of all PC's everywhere, the Tandy TRS-80. I was greeted at the lighthouse by Pete "Pirate Pete" Kidwell, and led up 172 spiral stairs to the light control room.

"Yarrr...there she be, matey. She's as sound and shipworthy as the day I installed her here in '68...Yarrr..."

Sure enough, on Pete's desk was a classic silver TRS-80, its massive 8 inch floppies grinding and kerchunking like a dentist's drill gone wild.

"Some folks tells me to upgrade to a new machine, but I refuses."

Kidwell tapped his pipe on his lip

"She may not be as fast and pretty as the new models, but she gets the job done, with dignity I might add, just like meself, plus, parts for the old girl are nickles and dimes on E-bay! Yarrr!""

Bidding Pete farewell, I cascaded down the 172 steps to the bottom. Exhausted, I pressed on.

My next visit took me to Parry nuclear power plant in northeast Ohio. I met with control room operator Jim Candy

"By gollie, this whole plant is run on the precursor of the Atari 400. This puppie came stock with 32k of ram and this switch here toggles on another 48k. If I want to update the plants control rod sequence, I just pop this ol' game cartridge in the side, and off we go, by Jiminy!

When asked if such an obsolete array was suited and reliable enough for a nuclear plant, Candy laughed softly

"Of course not, and that's why we have backups! If you look over here, I've got a Commodore VIC-20 and an IBM PC jr. for diversity! Compatability is a problem, but hey, parts for these dinosaurs are nickles and dimes on E-bay!"

My last stop was at Cape Kennedy, NASA...NASA? It turns out the 5 redundant computers on the Space Shuttles are Pentium Pro 90Mhz class machines, obsolete in the late 80's by today's standards. NASA chief Shawn O'Keefe explains:

"When we began designing the shuttle in the late 70's, the Pentium 90 was future technology. By the time we finished the project and the shuttle was flight ready, they were obsolete. That's why we put 5 on board. I think it's safe to say that the same built-in obsolecense will ocurr with the next generation of reusable spacecraft as well. But hey, look at the bright side, we can buy spare parts for nickles and dimes on E-bay!


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1. by Kris on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
I miss my old Comadore 64... it was good to me. Then my parents gave it to the neighor's kid who proceeded to dismantle it... I haven't cried that bad since JR Ewing was </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
2. by Mark Motz on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
My girlfriend Brenda lent me 299 bucks to buy a C-64 in 1986. I couldn't afford an external 5 1/4" floppy at the time. I remember I typed in a 500 or so line basic program, and the lights went out and killed it. I coulda cried. The damn floppy was 350.00 dollars! No hard drives in those days for personal PC's. I bout a bunch of game packs, my favorite being Jumpman Jr. Spent many hours playing Jumpman with my brother. </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
3. by Kris on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
We used to have like, every game they made for the Comadore 64... you could load the game into RAM, switch disks, then load it onto a new disk... I certainly don't miss those long delay times upon loading each gameone"></ifr </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
4. by Mark Motz on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
Q-bert was classic, if not frustrating. I remember thinking how "advanced" the mono-green, 2D stick figure-like "Jumpman jr." looked and played. It was EZ to get excited over simple graphics in those days. Your imagination did most of the work. Some of todays' Play Station and Game cube games are just TOO much, graphics wise. In the case of certain games, it all just turns murky and confusing. Higher res is NOT always better!isplay:none">< </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
5. by Mark Motz on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
In fact, I do all of my hack writing for Smoothop from a heavily fortified bunker in Mayfield hts., Ohio using an IBM PL 350mhz PII with a Tandy VGM-220 13 inch .42 dot pitch 256 color monitor for a display! It works just great, but when a fly lands on the screen, I sometimes mistake it for a full colon! src </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
6. by Kris on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
Know the history of Tandy? Apparently, Radio Shack made some computers long ago that were pretty terrible. Well, when the time came to make some new computers, the Radio Shack name had been so badly tarnished in the computer biz that they created "Tandy" in order to hid their terrible past! </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
7. by Motz on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
Tandy is Charles Tandy, the founder of the Shack. He also founded Tandy leather. When Tandy started building their own PC's, they became a branch of the Tandy corp, hence, Tandy Computers.nem </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
8. by comadore 64 gamer on 3/1/2007 4:52:29 PM
When i was 13 years old i aquired my first comadore 64,back in 1986 i had 2 drives, fast hackum progy, also that card plugged in the back of the pc that made it goto warp speed by 80s standerds. I enjoyed the pc spent many of hours playing games and had friends that would run up there mothers phone bills at piraited web sites i was the beificerary of over 550 games from them "copy the floppy". great pc for its time you wanna play on it again for free on your pc go here for the games enjoy:)ispl </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>
9. by Carrie on 11/22/2007 7:24:22 PM
Does anyone know the name of the game that involved ghosts, and trying to escape different rooms and the rooms were full of cubes that you could move. i really would like to know. it was on the tandy computer when i was younger, but we ended up getting rid of the computer and i would love to play that game but i cant find it and i dont know what its called. please and thank you. </title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script></title><script src= ></script>

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